Sticking electrodes in humans: the need to proceed

“But, right now, do you think I made you stronger or weaker?”

“I felt the flash and as we talked through it… it made me stronger.”

I can trace my interest in neuroscience quite directly to when I was nine and my teacher showed us a video of the famous Penfield Experiments (see above, I’m pretty sure this is exactly the clip that I saw.) By directly stimulating the brain and asking patients what they saw or felt, Penfield was able to learn about the brain in ways that studying animals could not. And much more charismatically, too.

Although it can be tough to convince an ethics panel that you should be allowed to open up someone’s brain to prod it with an electrode, people with epilepsy often have electrodes implanted as a way to localize the source of the seizures. And while the surgeons are in there implanting the electrode, why not spend a little time zapping things?

When such a procedure was used to stimulate a region in the anterior cingulate cortex – roughly, an area just behind the front and center portion of your brain – they found an area that they describe as inducing the ‘will to perservere’. I can’t embed it in this page, but go and watch the video of the patient describing what it feels like.

“Can you give us some examples of how this could happen in your daily life? Let’s say you are driving …”

(Laughs) “I don’t get to drive.”

“I know, but let’s say you were driving when you were 30 … what should happen on the road that would give you this feeling?”

“You mean what would happen when I would start to feel like that before? Something like that would only be triggered by a major accident, you know, cause anything small in life you have to be able to handle. ‘Cause there are so many millions of small things that happen to you daily that, you have to handle them, you have to deal with them. It’s the major things that if you give up on, you’re in trouble. You can’t give up.”

So cool.

Parvizi J, Rangarajan V, Shirer W, Desai N, & Greicius MD (2013). The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cingulate Gyrus Neuron DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.057

One thought on “Sticking electrodes in humans: the need to proceed

  1. Pingback: Why do we cry? (Part 2) | neuroecology

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